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Percussion Altered Model 1803 "Harpers Ferry" Rifle

Percussion Altered Model 1803 "Harpers Ferry" Rifle

SKU: FA-17-0006

       Prior to the adoption of the Model 1803 Rifle on December 2 of that year the rifles used by United States military forces were, for all practical purposes, essentially the same as their civilian brethren. The decision to go ahead with a specifically designed pattern of military rifle was the brainchild of then Secretary of War Henry Dearborn. It is also important to note that the Model 1803 Rifle would be the first US arm produced from a domestically made pattern arm. Production of the Model 1803 would commence in the second quarter of 1804 and would continue until 1807 at which 4,013 rifles had been manufactured. A sum which was thought to be sufficient for the regular United States forces.

       The start of the War of 1812 greatly enlarged the US Army and state militia forces. The need for all kinds of arms was intense, and as such the Harpers Ferry Arsenal recommenced production of the Model 1803 Rifle in 1814. During the lapse in production between 1807 and 1814 many improvements had been made to manufacturing techniques. As such, the rifles delivered from 1814 and onwards are noticeably different that their early production brethren. These second production run rifles, those manufactured between 1814 and 1820, are known as Model 1803 Type 2 Rifles. Production of the type two rifles amounted to 15,707 rifles, of which 1,600 were manufactured in 1814.

       The chief differences in the Type 1 and Type 2 rifles are the lockplate, barrel rib, and barrel length. Early production rifles feature a lock that ends in a projecting point, while the Type 2 rifles utilize a lock that's rear projection arcs to a point. The Type 1 Rifles also use a smaller 1/16th of an inch thinner than that of the Type 2. In 1815 Colonel Decius Wadsworth, Chief of Ordnance, wrote a series of recommendations for improvements to small arms. Among his suggestions was lengthening the barrel of the Model 1803 Rifle from 33 inches to 36 inches. When production recommenced in 1814 the recommendation to lengthen the barrel was unpublished, so early Type 2 rifles feature 33 inch barrels, while Type 2 Rifles produced from 1816 and onwards were all produced with the long 36 inch barrel.


       The Model 1803 Rifle offered here is a nice example of an early production, 1814 dated, Type 2 Rifle. As such it features a lock with an arced rear profile, and a marginally thicker barrel rib, but retains the 33 inch barrel length.

       Our rifle has been altered to percussion via the drum, or French method, and utilizes a civilian sporting style percussion hammer. Although this style of alteration is often attributed to Confederate usage, I see no other indicators of that, and as such I would estimate it to be a civilian alteration. The rifle's bore has also been reamed smooth and enlarged to .578 caliber. The balance of the rifle remains in its original military configuration.

       The rifle shows numerous handling marks and bruises along the stock, the worst of which is a scratch just forward of the patch box. There is a wood repair to the wrist area between the barrel tang and the lock plate that is held in place with small nails. There is further repair in the way of what looks to be a very old wood putty to the front of the lock in the area formerly occupied by the frizzen, and along the top edge of the lock, between it and the barrel tang.

       The only exterior markings found on the rifle are the usual Harpers Ferry lock stampings which consist of HARPERS/FERRY/1814 stamped vertically at the rear of the lock, and a rearward facing spread wing eagle forward of the cock. The breech shows the remnants of the two original barrel proofs, although they are largely unreadable. To the rear of the cheek rest a large 88 has been carved or stamped into the butt. The head of the ramrod also shows a XX Roman numeral, the significance of which is unknown to me.

       The stock is worn, but in good condition, and has a very pleasant medium brown color to it. The stock flat is worn to the point that no inspectors stamps are visible. The cheek rest also shows considerable wear and has been worn down, although this looks to be from the rifle's usage rather than a misguided refinishing job.

       The metal components have a mottled brown and dark gunmetal patina that is quite pleasing. The lock and breech exhibit some old very minor pin-prick pitting, but the gun is overall very smooth. The bore, which again has been reamed out to a smooth .578 caliber, is dark, but generally smooth as well.

Mechanically the gun is in very good condition. The lock functions properly on both half and full cock. The patchbox spring is quite strong and requires a good amount of pressure on the release button before the lid will come open.


       Overall this is a nice example of a desirable War of 1812 dated Model 1803 Rifle with an interesting percussion alteration.


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